So Rae Sremmurd are two yelping, early-twentysomething, pop-rapping Mississippian brothers who've earned a ton of comparisons to the '90s tween sensations Kris Kross, all of them unwelcome. Which is understandable: These guys are nearly twice as old (and ribald), determined to stick around for way longer, and disinclined to wear their clothes backwards. But they're just as catchy, even if their biggest hits to date seem designed to make you feel twice as old, too.
There are a few legitimate parallels, of course: Just as Kriss Kross were masterminded by Atlanta super-producer Jermaine Dupri, Rae Sremmurd are closely affiliated with Mike Will Made It, the ATL heavyweight who's made radio hits for everyone from Lil Wayne to Future to Rihanna to Miley Cyrus. (For the last time, I hope: The duo's name is Ear Drummers—Mike's new vanity label, for which they are the star attraction—spelled backwards. Yes, it's a terrible name.)
Furthermore, both these guys sound younger than they actually are: Swae Lee is a squeaker with a schoolyard-taunt sort of braggadocio, while Slim Jimmy roars like young Simba when his voice isn't croaking. That may sound unpalatable, but their whimsical summer 2014 breakout hit "No Flex Zone" made crossover success inevitable: The beat hits hard, and the duo's vocal jabs serve as boisterous comic-strip speech bubbles. It was kid-tested and mother-approved: Nicki Minaj pouted like a young girl on her remix, while Solange Knowles deemed the original suitable for the mother-son dance at her own wedding.
Second single "No Type" was far less cuddly—it's more Child's Play than Kidz Bop. While the boys still rap about being surrounded by women, they also sound like they're trapped in a cellar; the song's static-y opening chords always remind me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera theme. But it's also the bigger hit of the two: It's now a Top 20 song, in fact, performed by the brothers themselves on The Tonight Show and rapped by Pat Sajak on ESPN. It also suggests an unlikely path to world dominance that the boys are eager to follow. "It's really gonna be turnt up, Rae Sremmurd-style—somebody's swinging off the chandeliers," Slim Jimmy predicted when I chatted with the duo for MySpace back in June. Cue the duo's bonkers full-length debut, this week's SremmLife, which is lots of fun, but not of the good, clean, family sort.
This record fulfills the bizarre promise made by "We," the very first song Rae Sremmurd recorded with Mike Will, which appeared on the producer's 2013 mixtape #MikeWiLLBeenTriLL. Introducing the track, heartbroken cyborg Future—himself one of Atlanta rap's current younger mega-talents—sounds old enough to be the boys' babysitter. Indeed, adult supervision suddenly seems very necessary when the brothers enter, groaning like zombies while chanting, "We just fucked up the party." Both the party and the fucking-up of same continue here: There are no after-school-special lessons or "I Missed the Bus"-style frivolity on SremmLife. When they're not crashing house parties, they're demanding better service at strip clubs; they crash a Four Seasons on the quaking "Unlock the Swag" and warble about Tokyo drifting on "YNO" with smutty uncle Big Sean in hot pursuit. These are tales of high-stakes partying and antics at any expense, so long as an ATM (or a king-making label benefactor) is nearby.
Often, there's a crowd egging the boys on: See "My X," wherein #NaeNae-style HOO-AH's back the duo's aggrieved chants of "My ex-bitch / I'm shining on my ex-bitch!" as producer Young Chop adds alarming dog-whistle frequencies to his sharp Chicago drill sound. Elsewhere, Sonny Digital lends John Carpenter-style arpeggios to "Up Like Trump." Plus, as the two aforementioned hits show, Mike Will's own melodies have become increasingly off-kilter since his turn on Juicy J's ubiquitous "Bandz a Make Her Dance"—and his new charges can behave just as unpredictably. A crib-mobile melody seems to be lulling the duo to sleep on opener "Lit Like Bic," at least until Slim Jimmy ugly-cries through his verse; "Unlock the Swag" endorses a certain bachelor-pad lifestyle, though the longer you spend with its spaced-out melody, the more claustrophobic you get. Closer "Safe Sex and Paychecks" comes on like a high-octane Ke$ha song at first, but slowly blossoms into a wistful last-call anthem.
There's only one rule here: Don't waste Rae Sremmurd's time. "You getting on my nerves with them questions / Girl, you know I'm trying to start a little movement," Swae Lee instructs a dancer on "Come Get Her." At less than 50 minutes long, SremmLife is built for short attention spans, and there's not a dull moment to be found, nor an interlude, nor a time when Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy use their speaking voices.
"I'm a trendsetter! / I'm a go-getter!" Swae Lee squeals on "No Flex Zone," and that line is crucial to understanding the appeal here: Just as Kris Kross still resonate if only for a handful of sticky hooks and their bizarre fashion sense, SremmLife is packed with earworms and catch phrases—see "Lit Like Bic," "Unlock the Swag," or "Up Like Trump"—that the duo hopes will cement their place in pop culture. (That Pat Sajak and the Kardashians are already on board is a good sign.) They're just warming it up.
Christina Lee lives in Atlanta and has written for Wondering Sound, RollingStone.com, Billboard, and SPIN. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images.
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